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For nationwide gay marriage, more battles ahead
Thursday - 6/27/2013, 12:00pm EDT
AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Even as they celebrate a momentous legal victory, supporters of gay marriage already are anticipating a return trip to the Supreme Court in a few years, sensing that no other option but a broader court ruling will legalize same-sex unions in all 50 states.
In the meantime, as one gay-rights leader said, there will be "two Americas" -- and a host of legal complications for many gay couples moving between them.
Wednesday's twin rulings from the high court will extend federal recognition to same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal, and will add California -- the most populous state -- to the 12 others in that category. That will mean about 30 percent of Americans live in states recognizing same-sex marriage.
But the court's rulings have no direct effect on the constitutional amendments in 29 states that limit marriage to heterosexual couples. In a handful of politically moderate states such as Oregon, Nevada and Colorado those amendments could be overturned by ballot measures, but that's considered highly unlikely in more conservative states.
"It would be inefficient to try to pick off 30 constitutional amendments one by one," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. "Eventually this will have to be settled by the Supreme Court."
The Human Rights Campaign's president, Chad Griffin, told supporters outside the Supreme Court building that the goal would be to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide within five years.
To sway the justices in such a time frame, activists plan a multipronged strategy. In addition to possible ballot measures in a few states, they hope lawmakers will legalize same-sex marriage in states which now offer civil unions to gay couples, notably New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii.
There also will be advocacy efforts in more conservative states, ranging from expansion of anti-discrimination laws to possible litigation on behalf of sex-couples there who are denied state recognition even though they married legally in some other jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court's decisions "underscore the emergence of two Americas," Griffin said. "In one, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens are nearing full equality. In the other, our community lacks even the most basic protections."
Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, suggested that efforts to end that division would not be easy, given that many states have electorates that seem solidly opposed to gay marriage.
"The fight is far from over," Rauch wrote in a commentary. "By refusing to override those majorities, the court green-lighted the continuation, probably for a decade or more, of state-by-state battles over marriage."
In Florida, where voters approved a ban on gay marriage with 62 percent support in 2008, the gay-rights group Equality Florida called on its supporters to "get engaged and fight" for recognition of same-sex marriage.
The high court rulings "are a major step forward for the country, but for Floridians they fall far short of justice," said the group's executive director, Nadine Smith. "The Supreme Court has said we can go states like Minnesota or Iowa and get married, but we return to Florida legal strangers in our home state."
Florida State Rep. Joe Saunders, a Democrat from Orlando and one of the state's first openly gay lawmakers, said "every strategy is on the table" as activists ponder ways to eliminate the 2008 ban, including warnings of economic consequences.
"If 13 other states provide protections to gay and lesbian families, what does that mean for our ability to keep those families here in Florida?" he said. "Until we can promise them the same basic protections, we're going to be economically disadvantaged."
Increasingly, political swing states like Florida, as well as more solidly Republican states, could become gay-marriage battlegrounds.
One example of the forthcoming strategy: The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it has hired Steve Schmidt, former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee and adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to build support among GOP state politicians for striking down gay-marriage bans.
"For a full civil liberties victory, we need broad-based support from coast to coast," the ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero, said.
On the conservative side, there was deep dismay over the Supreme Court rulings, but little indication of any new strategies or initiatives.
"The debate over marriage has only just begun," said Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which staunchly opposes same-sex marriage, called upon Americans "to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life."